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Curb Your Lefty Law Professors

The Spectator World – The Chemerinsky Dinner and the fate of legal academia.

“I am enormously sad that we have students who are so rude as to come into my home, in my backyard, and use this social occasion for their political agenda,” said hapless University of California Berkeley Law dean Erwin Chemerinsky.

Last week, Chemerinsky and his wife, Berkeley law professor Catherine Fisk, were humiliated at a home dinner they hosted for third-year law students when Malak Afaneh, a Palestinian-American student who is co-president of the Berkeley chapter of Law Students for Justice in Palestine, produced a microphone she had brought with her and launched into a speech protesting the dinner and, apparently, her host. The dinner, which the Chemerinskys typically hold for first-year law students but gave for third-years to make up for Covid-19 pandemic cancellations, coincided with the last day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Afaneh came to object to the occasion because Berkeley — and Chemerinsky as its law dean — have refused calls to divest from companies that she says support Israeli military operations in Gaza.

As seen in a now-viral video sometimes accompanied by the theme music from the recently concluded Curb Your Enthusiasm, Chemerinsky and Fisk immediately approached Afaneh and demanded that she leave their home. Afaneh refused and, despite being 3L at one of the nation’s leading law schools, wrongly claimed that she has a First Amendment right to express herself on their private property. Her unhappy hosts repeated their request that she leave in increasingly urgent tones, with Fisk lightly touching Afaneh before trying to grab away her microphone. Afaneh wouldn’t let go and was dragged up several steps. Other students present spoke up for Afaneh, who then left, along with about ten of the approximately sixty students in attendance. Afaneh and her organization are now claiming Fisk assaulted her, even though neither the video nor California law appears to substantiate that allegation. Fisk did appear to have touched Afaneh’s veil, however, which the student said she considered a major religious transgression.

Clearly, it was a sad evening for the Chemerinskys, an older academic couple who generously open their private home to law students in an age when, as they so ruefully found out, any extramural contact between students and professors has become a potentially serious professional hazard. As standard bourgeois liberals, they were likely also under the delusion that they can expect good manners from students hoping to become attorneys and some deference to their role as educators. In a rare courageous moment for university administrators, Berkeley’s chancellor Carol Christ and board chairman Richard Leib staunchly defended the Chemerinskys’ private property rights and the limits they place on Afaneh’s freedom of speech.

Nevertheless, the humiliation of the Chemerinskys is suffused with delicious irony. Erwin Chemerinsky has been an outspoken advocate for progressive causes and radical identity politics for his entire career. In another video now circulating, he appears to reveal to a law school class ways that university hiring committees can dodge laws that prohibit affirmative action-style diversity hiring. Ironically, Chemerinsky’s progressivism has extended to defending pro-Palestinian activists, even to the point of supporting the “heckler’s veto” to block pro-Israeli speakers, though he angrily objected to a recent image of himself (later adjusted) suggesting the antisemitic blood libel trope in a poster criticizing his student dinners. And of course, he quite literally doesn’t want protests in his backyard.

Chemerinsky’s mugging by reality probably will not change his radical legal views, which appear to end where his driveway begins, or alter Berkeley Law’s worrisome campus culture, which he has done so much to foster only to find that he is no longer progressive enough to merit its full approval. It probably never occurred to him — and may still haven’t — that the mores governing life as he has known it are no longer observed in higher education or on the left generally. The video suggests this, as he could apparently entertain no other solution than to repeat his request that Afaneh leave, ad nauseum and with increasing volume, likely expecting that his traditionally minded approach would work if he just tried hard enough. But now that it has only served to humiliate him before millions of people who did not know his name until last week, he may yet take the painful lesson to heart.



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